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2017 PREVIEW: International talent flavors Men’s Soccer this fall

WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Excitement surrounds Grace’s men’s soccer team heading into the 2017 season.

Head coach Matt Hotchkin has compiled a wealth of talent from across the globe for this year’s roster. Ten countries are represented on the Lancers, and 14 players on the 27-man team hail from beyond the United States.

The tremendous diversity, rather than divide the squad, has unified the group. It has “brought life to the team” in Hotchkin’s words and produced healthy competition at nearly every position.

Hotchkin was pleased with the hard-working attitude and skill on the field that the newcomers had brought. “We would love for the campus to welcome these guys in. They are hard-working guys who come from all over the world. They will be impactful to our campus and community,” Hotchkin said.

Represented on Grace’s team are players from Serbia, Brazil, Sweden, Zambia, England, Mexico, Colombia, Japan and Trinidad and Tobago. Many of the newcomers are expected to contribute immediately, including preseason starters Ulisses Miranda (Brazil), Togo Narusawa (Japan) and Joshua Coupar (England).

Miranda, a speedy forward, has already established himself as one of the hardest-working players on the team. Narusawa is the squad’s “most intelligent player,” according to Hotchkin, who doesn’t make mistakes from the midfield, and Coupar’s ability to distribute long passes from the defensive line has unlocked some of the team’s potential.

Junior Kurt Hamlin is the only goalkeeper on Grace’s roster and is set for his first year as the primary goalie and team captain. He played well in his opportunities last year, yielding just eight goals in 11 appearances. Hamlin’s vocal presence and his sure hands have the Lancers in a good position this fall.

Offensively, Damon Binkley and Cody Boerema headline the returners. Boerema enjoyed a breakout year in his freshman season, leading Grace with 10 goals last year. Binkley had a team-high five assists to go along with five goals in 2016.

Other key returners include co-captains Josiah Osborn and Thomas Tydeman. Osborn is a two-year starter on Grace’s back line and has developed into a consistent leader, and Tydeman brings elite speed from the wing.

The blending of fresh talent and experienced returners gives Hotchkin one of the largest rosters in program history. The 27 players represent “the greatest amount of quality depth that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” in Hotchkin’s words.

So far through preseason, Hotchkin has been pleased with the “creative flair” the team has showcased on offense. But while creating shots has been a strength, Hotchkin wants the team to improve on converting those chances into goals. “We’ve got guys who can create goals, but we haven’t figured out how to finish goals smoothly. This team has the ability, but we need to work on our finishing.”

Two years ago, the Lancers finished one win away from winning the Crossroads League. So while Grace hopes to make another run to the title this year, Hotchkin recognizes the league has only improved.

“Our conference has gotten more competitive every year. The coaching within the conference is solid, so nothing is guaranteed match to match,” Hotchkin said. “I believe our conference is knocking on the door of winning a national championship, and the Crossroads League is due to earn more respect this year on the national scene.”

The Lancers officially start the season on Friday with a game at Bluefield in Virginia. Grace’s home opener at 1st Source Bank Field is Aug. 30 against Trinity International.